What is it?
A bit of a conundrum, really. The Fiat Panda Cross – which made its debut in Geneva earlier this year and which we’ve already driven in 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol form – sits at the very top of the Panda range in the UK.
To set it apart from its pseudo-off-road siblings, the Panda Trekking and the Panda 4x4, Fiat has given the Panda Cross chunky body cladding, raised its ride height by 9mm, fitted mud and snow tyres as standard, and added its ‘torque on demand’ selectable traction control system.
Under normal conditions, the Panda Cross is front-wheel drive, but when the car detects a loss of traction power is sent to the rear. Hill Descent Control is also fitted.
So with some pretty serious off-road credentials, the Panda Cross appears to be raising itself to compete with compact SUVS like the Ford EcoSport, Vauxhall Mokka, and even the Skoda Yeti. Yet, with dimensions measuring just 3705mm long by 1662mm wide, the Panda Cross has more in common with city cars like Volkswagen’s Up, the Seat Mii and the Skoda Citigo.
It’s a car which exists all on its own, then, which needn’t be a bad thing if it’s also practical, well priced and fun to drive.
What's it like?
Surprisingly efficient off-road. We tried the diesel-powered 1.3-litre MultiJet Panda Cross, which is predicted to make up 40 per cent of sales in the UK. It offers 79bhp and 140lb ft, and a claimed 0-62mph time of 14.3 seconds.
The diesel is a noisy engine on the road, despite having more soundproofing fitted than in other Panda models. Above 3000rpm the din really is intrusive, and even cruising at 70mph and 2500rpm you’ll still notice the noise from under the bonnet. That’s not helped by the five-speed manual transmission fitted here, and there’s no six-speed manual option like there is in the petrol-powered Panda Cross.
Being taller than the regular Panda by some 50mm, the Panda Cross suffers a significant amount of body roll through the corners, and the steering feels a little vague. The ride is good, though, even at speed, and those larger mud and snow tyres help to absorb most road imperfections.
It’s when you ditch the tarmac and take the Panda Cross off-road that it really begins to impress. Forging a path where only larger compact SUVs and crossovers would dare to tread, the Panda Cross feels nimble, well planted and stable on mud and grass. The diesel engine provides good low-end torque, but its shortcomings elsewhere make the petrol Panda Cross the better option.
The selectable off-road mode makes the Panda Cross all-wheel drive at speeds of up to 30mph, as well as engaging the car’s so-called electronic locking differential. And it works very well, allowing the little Fiat to scramble its way up muddy hills and along rutted forest paths with ease.
Inside, and regular Panda owners will feel right at home as much of the interior design has been lifted wholesale. It’s not the most spacious cabin, but has good ergonomics and a modern design. Climate control is standard, as is Fiat's Blue&Me infotainment system.
Should I buy one?
The price is a bit of a pitfall; the Panda Cross costs £15,945 in petrol form, rising to £16,945 for the diesel tested here. That’s almost £17,000 for a small runabout, granted one that also has genuine off-road ability to throw into the mix.
Plus, at the end of the day, the tricks the Panda Cross can pull off road are unlikely to be helpful in the majority of day-to-day driving situations. That it is very capable on a variety of surfaces is an impressive novelty, but a novelty nonetheless.
Yes, Fiat has effectively created a new niche here, but not necessarily one the car market was crying out for. If you do decide it’s worth forking out for the Panda Cross, though, our advice would be to choose the cheaper TwinAir petrol model.
Fiat Panda Cross 1.3 MultiJet
Price £16,945; 0-62mph 14.3sec; Top speed 99mph; Economy 60.1mpg; CO2 125g/km; Kerb weight 1155kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1248cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 79bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 140lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox 5-speed manual